Popular Protest in Post War Japan: The Antiwar Art of Shikoku Gorō

Creating an Atom Bomb Picture Book

It took a team to successfully adopt Yamaguchi’s original text about wartime destruction of a neighborhood into a picture book suitable for young audiences. Why did this project come to fruition when it did? How did the book find an audience?

Between 1975 and 1980, the vigor of the nuclear arms race indicated the tensions between the superpowers, with the US and USSR adding about 10,000 thermonuclear weapons to their already huge arsenals in these years. In reaction, transnational antinuclear movements that had honed their skills during the Vietnam War revived as détente between the US and USSR faded and the possibility of nuclear apocalypse loomed. Concerns about the safety of nuclear power raised by environmentalists added a new dimension to the 1970s antinuclear movement.

It was in this context of high nuclear tensions that the children’s book publisher Kin no Hoshisha proposed a picture book version of Angry Jizo. Yamaguchi’s original story narrated a young girl’s experience with the bombing on August 6 and her death, and then depicted survivors’ efforts to remake the shattered Jizo in the years after the bombing. Initially, Yamaguchi hesitated at the idea of a picture book that ended with the girl’s death and omitted the search for the Jizo during Hiroshima’s recovery that was integral to her original story. However, the urgency of energizing the national and global antinuclear movements convinced Yamaguchi to allow the project to go forward with an abbreviated version. As a trusted partner in the antinuclear movement and well-respected local progressive artist, Shikoku was the logical choice for illustrator. 
The text of the most popular edition of The Angry Jizo, the 1979 edition, is not in the standard Japanese of Yamaguchi’s original text. Instead, the picture book features text in an oral story teller’s style (katari), with a tinge of Hiroshima-dialect that was written by actor Numata Yōichi. The illustrations by Shikoku dominate each page; an insert with Yamaguchi’s longer text in standard Japanese is also included. Numata devoted himself to travelling throughout Japan to collect folk tales, and to doing oral performances of folk tales before live audiences.  After hearing a school teacher in Hiroshima reading The Angry Jizo, Numata decided to include the story in all of his performances to young audiences. 

The Angry Jizo came into being in the context of the highly influential philosophy and practice of peace education (heiwa kyōiku). Japan’s powerful teachers’ union, the JTU, had committed in the early 1950s to emphasizing peace education in public school curricula. Peace education emphasized anti-militarism, questioned the notion of Just War, and looked to the experiential authority of survivors of the bombings and war to enlighten readers about the horrors of war. Many other structures in postwar society bolstered the valorization of Japan’s “peace” constitution and Article 9, along with the advocacy against nuclear weapons by mainstream social movements, and the “Three Non-Nuclear Principles”.
As for the illustrations, Shikoku Gorō admitted that he found daunting the task of illustrating a children’s book about nuclear weapons. Those bombs, he noted, are the most frightening things in the world.

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